Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus proposition 4.04

To: Daniel H.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus proposition 4.04
Date: 8 December 10:05

Dear Danny,

Thank you for your email of 3 December, with your first essay for the Philosophy of Language program, in response to the question, ''A gramophone record, the musical idea, the written notes, and the sound-waves, all stand to one another in the same internal relation to one another of depicting that holds between language and the world' (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 4.04). Discuss.'

In answer to your question, with this kind of question it is perfectly possible to confine yourself to explaining the remark in the context of the text, in this case the Tractatus. The question does not ask for your critical comments. However it would be within the remit of the question to offer critical comments if you have any (as you do at the end of your essay) or indeed refer to criticisms made by other philosophers, including the later Wittgenstein (who for many purposes can be viewed as 'another philosopher').

Here's a telling remark from the later Wittgenstein:
'What the names in language signify must be indestructible; for it must be possible to describe the state of affairs in which everything destructible is destroyed. And this description will contain words; and what corresponds to these cannot then be destroyed, for otherwise the words would have no meaning.' I must not saw off the branch on which I am sitting. (Philosophical Investigations para 55).

In other words, Wittgenstein is trying to get across what he once thought, but no longer thinks, and the picture in his mind ('I must not saw off the branch') that motivated him to think this. You can imagine this being said with a wry grin.

The idea that the world has indestructible 'substance' was not new. Kant argues for this in the Critique of Pure Reason, not on the basis of a theory of meaning but rather as a condition for the 'possibility of experience', along with the law of determinism. By linking the demand for substance to semantics, Wittgenstein in effect finds an unmetaphysical way to revive a traditional metaphysical doctrine.

However, the idea captured in the gramophone example, as such, does not take us all the way to 'substance'. Additional arguments are needed. The key argument is 2.0211: 'If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true.' (Compare the paragraph from the Investigations.) This argument is actually based on Russell's Theory of Descriptions: 'The present King of France is bald' must make sense even if there is no King of France (Russell's example).

The key word in the gramophone quote is 'internal'. What does 'internal relation' mean in this context and how does it differ from an external relation? (Here again, we have concepts from traditional metaphysics but applied in a new way.) We might try to express this is in terms of 'subjunctive conditional' statements. 'If the crotchet had been one line down, then the tune would have ended on a C instead of an E.' Each possibility of putting the notes at different points on the stave, or giving each note a different value (crotchet, quaver etc.) corresponds to a different tune. There is no combination of crotchets that does not identify a tune, nor is there any tune which can not be represented in this way.

However, this is not yet sufficient to capture the sense of 'internal'. What makes these subjunctive conditional statements true is not a scientific law, which would only give external relations, but the 'law of form' which comes into existence with the recognition of an activity called 'making music'. In other words, we would say that human intention is involved. However, in the austere vision of the Tractatus this would be a mere remark about 'psychology' and not relevant to 'logic'.

The gramophone example describes, as you say, 'musical form'. It is not logical form. So something needs to be said about this too. What is the difference? We are only dealing with 'meaning' and 'propositions' when we make pictures whose form is logical form. Propositions are true or false. The music to Frere Jaques is neither true nor false, although relative to a given purpose it can be the 'wrong music' (e.g. you asked for the music for Ring a Roses, or you played the wrong note).

What about the question of vagueness? This is an issue not with the notion of picturing as such but rather with the simples theory. In defence of Wittgenstein, one could say that he was fully aware of the existence of vague propositions and has a theory to explain it: however vague a statement seems, on the surface, in reality it has a precise meaning. E.g. 'The cup is on the ta table' means, 'Either the cup is at position 1, or at position 2 or...' (and the same for all the possible ways something can be 'the cup').

On the other hand, ethical, aesthetic and religious statements fail according to the picture theory to respect the very notion of 'representing what is the case'. Even if Wittgenstein had not been impressed by Russell's argument, arguably his theory would still have banned these areas of 'discourse' to the realm of the unsayable.

All the best,